Conway High’s baseball team has reached the Class 7A championship game by focusing the big picture rather than the marquee.
"We’ve got some good baseball players, several who will be playing at colleges and junior colleges; we just don’t have that one guy who is the rave," said Wampus Cat coach Noel Boucher, whose Cats (24-7) will play 7A-Central rival Bryant (23-7) for the 7A title at 6 p.m. Sunday at the University’s of Central Arkansas’ Bear Stadium.
The Wampus Cats will be making their sixth appearance in the state championship game at the highest classification, all under the leadership of Boucher and assistant Barry Lueders. They haven’t won it since 1989, when the program was in its early stages. They finished in the runner-up position in 1993, 1994, 1999 and 2007.
"I would probably compare this group to the 1993-94 bunch in that we have pretty solid pitching and are pretty good in most areas but no big name stars, just a whole bunch of guys who love to play baseball," Boucher said.
The Cats reached the finals with victories over North Little Rock and an impressive 9-0 thumping of Rogers Heritage, the favorite going in. In that game, Matt Lefler threw a two-hitter and used only 66 pitches to dispose of the 7A-West champions. UCA recruit Connor McClain, who will likely get the start tonight, Lefler and Bo Stitch head a senior-laden pitching rotation for the Cats.
"Senior pitching has been a big aspect of our success," Boucher said. "McClain and Lefler have had some good efforts but Bo Stitch is a big reason we are where we are. When we needed him to do it, he did it."
As is their tradition, the Cats enter the state title contest playing their baseball of the season.
"We’ve had our ups and downs just like everybody else," Boucher said. "We had weather problems early in the season that caused not to get any consistency. Now, that we’ve settled in and have been able to play more regularly, we’ve playing with a lot of confidence. We’re hitting the ball very well, one through nine. We’re putting the ball in play, we’re getting good pitching, good defense, getting the timely hits and making the routine plays."
During the regular season, Conway and Bryant split a doubleheader, with the Hornets winning 13-9 and the Cats taking the nightcap 11-9.
"Bryant (the defending champion) is a good team and a tough one to beat," Boucher said. "I expect a real good game and it to come down to what it usually does, who can get the well-pitched game at the right time and who can get the big hits."